Hong Kong’s emeritus archbishop, Cardinal Joseph Zen, has slammed the Chinese government’s program to demolish rooftop crosses from Christian churches, calling it a “regression” in China’s policy toward religion, reminiscent of Mao’s Cultural Revolution.
Cardinal Zen said that the campaign for the elimination of crosses in the Zhejiang province is an insult to the faith of Catholics and a clear violation of religious freedom in China, which is becoming increasingly restricted.
The prelate pronounced these words in a Mass celebrated in the Hong Kong church of St. Andrew on August 14, with 750 people in attendance.
Zen compared what is happening today in Zhejiang and other areas of China with the early years of communism and the Cultural Revolution. He recalled that during periods of persecution, Chinese Christians, bishops, and priests were required to step on the cross as a sign of contempt for the faith and apostasy. What is taking place today in Zhejiang is on the same line, he said.
“The Cross is the symbol of our faith. By removing the crosses, authorities insult our faith and violate our rights, which are also guaranteed by the Chinese constitution,” he said.
The cardinal also said that the destruction of the crosses has now become a national campaign. “In the beginning,” he said, “I thought that the campaign came from a decision of the local government. But since it has been going on for some time, I have reached the conclusion that it must be a policy of the state. This is a terrible and serious regression of China’s religious policy,” he said.
In the past 20 months, more than 1,200 Christian Churches in Zhejiang have had their crosses forcibly removed. Although the government claims it is simply removing “illegal structures,” critics argue it is a coordinated effort to harass the province’s 2 million plus Christians.
The cardinal also criticized other ways that the government has been cracking down on Christians.
The way Beijing picks and appoints bishops is even more serious than the elimination of crosses because it involves the election of “successors to the apostles and the leaders of our Church,” he said.
This week in Hong Kong, there were demonstrations, signature campaigns, masses, and liturgical services by Catholics and Protestants protesting the destruction of the crosses and religious buildings.
A resident of Hong Kong, told AsiaNews that “it is time to speak up because sooner or later this policy could also affect our region.”
The Global Times, a state-run magazine tied to the People’s Daily, has reported that by September 1, fifteen other “illegal” churches will be shut down or demolished in the city of Wenling.
According to reports, authorities will also destroy buildings with legal permits in an effort to reduce and control the influence of Christians in Chinese society.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.